Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Apologetics: Apologizing on God's behalf

I think the humblest discipline to get into is apologetics because you have to "apologize" most of the time. (and I am pulling out all the stops on this, so pardon me).

For example, in a miracle or healing service, when people don't get healed or are partially healed (80%...no joke, my church actually proclaimed to the petitioner on open stage that he or she is about 80% healed to thunderous applause), you have to engage in biblical euphemisms like, "Continue to believe/You will soon receive your healing/just have faith."

And when you pray for a healthy baby and the child turns out otherwise, you again have to finesse the disappointment by saying, "God has better plans for your baby/Continue to trust in Him/Do you have any unconfessed sins?"

Lastly, when one marriage breaks up, even for a marriage ordained by pastors and there is a general consensus that the marital union was made in heaven with God's blessings, you have to buttress the weary faith with these words, "She is not God's will for you/He will find you a more godly spouse/You have to examine your own heart the next time."

You see, the above examples are real life examples. And every time a prayer returns to one void, the party who does the praying will have to "apologize" (using it loosely) for it. That's what apologetics is about I guess; you make "excuses" (using it loosely again) for the disappointment of an unanswered prayer, of a hidden God, of an unpunished evil that prospers despite, of an undeserving death, of unmitigated and gratuitous suffering, and of a grossly unfair eternal damnation.

Professor Antony Flew, before he opened his heart to omnipotence, once said that the Christian definition of God ‘dies a death of a thousand qualifications.’

This is his parable of two gardeners to prove this ferocious bias: “Two explorers come across a clearing in a jungle. It contains a mixture of weeds and flowers. One claims that there must be a gardener who comes to tend the clearing. The other denies it.

They sit and wait, but no gardener appears, however they try to detect him. One gardener continues to claim that there is a gardener; one who is invisible, inaudible, intangible and undetectable.

Dr Flew argues that, in the same way, if a believer’s statement about God can be made to fit into any circumstance, it is not meaningful and has no empirical implications.”

You kind of get what Dr Flew mean when you take the time to read the tomb entitled "If God is Good: Faith in the amidst of Suffering and Evil?" by Pastor Randy Acorn. It is essentially "qualifications" galore.

Nothing escapes the ingenuity of man to come up with a God-defending purpose for every conceivable human tragedy in this world despite the earnest and persistent invocation for relief. There is a self-dictated reason for every unanswered prayer. Every death is interpreted as a timely divine intervention; however young or tragic the deceased comes to his end. Every unremitting physical suffering is redemptive in nature for his glory. And every marital betrayal, spate of violence, sorrow inflicted, and social and financial calamities are the archetype tribulations of life and they are planted by the divine architect for the expressed purpose of our betterment.

Here is a personal experience for me.

When one of my loved ones went for brain surgery, despite heaps of the sincerest prayers for healing ever uttered, I once asked this question: "Why doesn't God make himself obvious enough so that it takes much less time to convince the die-hard atheists, the staunch agnostics and the apathetic deists?"

I mean "obvious enough" in several ways. God could easily intervene when pointless sufferings are taking place. He could stop the gang rape of a little nine years old. He could teleport an elderly woman out of the way of a group of thugs and murderers. He could deflect incoming missiles heading straight for a school bus full of children singing "Amazing Grace".

He could end deformity in babies. He could answer the earnest prayer of a travailing believer. Or maybe, just maybe, He could make himself "obvious enough" by occasionally saving innocent lives and punishing deserving evildoers; not too often though, but maybe occasionally.

Surely a world like this would still have suffering to strengthen our character but it would not have pointless suffering that aim to arm skeptics with a reason to mock our faith. A world like this would explain a lot about God and give us a clearer picture of His goodness, mercy and grace. A world like this can't be that faith-dampening, right?

I know we live in a fallen world with fallen world consequences. And we have to factor in free will in that men will have to live with the consequences of their choices with unavoidable collateral damages of innocent lives, extreme poverty and deformed babies.

But surely nothing is stopping God from tweaking it just a teensy weeny bit to bring about a semblance of good sense, peace and justice for the sake of the starkly downtrodden, the terminally ill, the cruelly exploited, the repeatedly mistreated and the inhumanly abused.

Maybe, at this quite depressing juncture, a little fresh water spring from CS Lewis would be most soul quenching: "They say of some temporal suffering, no future bliss can make up for it, not knowing that heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory." (Revelation 21:4-6)

Question: Will the end ultimately and eventually work backwards and turn every agony, suffering and pain in this world into a glory?

Herein ends my lamentation of faith.

Let me tell you what apologetics is to me, finally. It is not so much an apology for an absent God. But it is an apology for the absence of an inquiring mind. The mind that gives up in the face of suffering, however inexplicable and searing, is to me the apotheosis of an absent mind. And it is a pity for a mind to call it quits when confronted with the theodicy of a seemingly uncaring God.

One author wrote this about suffering, "If people cannot speak about their affliction they will be destroyed by it, or swallowed up by apathy. Without the capacity to communicate with others there can be no change. To become speechless, to be totally without any relationship, that is death." (Dorothee Solle)

To me, real death is a mind that is closed, a heart that is cold and a faith that has given up. I believe apologetics is like a diligent active search; a never ending search for the Truth. You may die trying but in trying, you live.

True purpose comes from never knowing sometimes and never knowing may be what faith is all about. Madam Jeanne Guyon wrote, "If knowing answers to life's questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables - of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair."

Mind you, I am not excusing ignorance or justifying indolence. There is no excuse in sacrificing learning for self-conceited orthodoxy. What I am alluding to is a sense of wonderment or the intuition of curiosity. It is a mind that is humbled by the infinitude of knowledge beyond one’s earthly grasp. And when we come to such a ledge overlooking the epistemological schism or the knowledge gap, we acknowledge our limitations. We switch gear. We close our empirical sight, or that itch or urge to want to reduce all things to the irreducible, and we take the leap of faith. I guess this is what Einstein meant when he said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  

So, apologetics to me is like a compass. It points me in the right direction but it never shows me my longed for destination. It is a road that bends into a circle and as I follow it, it always brings me back to square one but with a deeper understanding of things from when I first started. It is a loop that grows bigger and bigger as I probe deeper and deeper.

Gotthold E Lessing once wrote, "If God held all truth in his right hand and in his left the everlasting striving after truth, so that I could always and everlastingly be mistaken, and said to me, "Choose," with humility I would pick the left hand and say, "Father, grant me that. Absolute truth is for thee alone."

So, for now, I choose to see apologetics as faith defending faith. And as I brave through my own trials, I will discover that sometimes defending faith takes more faith than my faith can take. When that time comes, and I nevertheless persist in my faith against all forces to give up, I can then truly internalize these words of Fyodor Dostoevski in my triumphant heart, "It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Cheers.

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